St. Louise de Marillac (1591 – 1660)

It is impossible to separate the name of Saint Louise de Marillac from the charitable initiatives of Saint Vincent. She was born in 1591 into the noble family of the Marillacs. She married Antoine le Gras, a secretary to the Queen of France Maria de’ Medici, and divided her time between work in her home, raising her son and the service of the poor. On the death of her husband, she took a vow of widowhood and gave herself up to works of charity. By degrees her spiritual director, Saint Vincent, involved her in his work visiting the Confraternities of Charity in the neighborhoods of Paris. Her well-known organizational abilities helped found and nurture the Daughters of Charity in 1633.

St. Vincent opened an orphanage, and the sisters taught the children. They also took charge of the Hotel-Dieu in Paris. Louise established other orphanages and hospitals, nursed plague victims herself in Paris, reformed a neglected hospital in Angers and oversaw all the activity of the order despite her fragile health. She traveled all over France founding more than 40 daughter houses (including one in Madagascar and another in Poland) and charities. At the time of her death, the sick and poor were tended in their homes in 26 Parisian parishes and hundreds of women were given shelter. She was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1934, and was declared Patroness of Social Workers by Pope John XXIII in 1960.